New York, March 16, 2005—BBC reporter Raphael Tenthani and Mabvuto Banda of the independent daily The Nation have been released on bail after being held overnight by police in the capital, Lilongwe. The two journalists were arrested yesterday at their homes in the southern city of Blantyre for reporting that the president feared ghosts may haunt the presidential palace.
Both journalists have been charged with “publishing a false story likely to cause public fear contrary to Section 60 (1) of the penal code,” according to a police statement quoted in The Nation.
The arrests stemmed from reports by the journalists alleging that President Bingu wa Mutharika had moved out of the presidential palace because of fears it was haunted. The allegation was widely carried by Malawian media over the weekend, according to Reuters.
“CPJ calls for the ridiculous charge against our colleagues to be dropped, and we urge President Mutharika to work toward decriminalizing press offenses in Malawi,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper
Reverend Malani Mtonga, a senior adviser to the president whom the journalists quoted as their source, denied the reports after they appeared, and President Mutharika has claimed that his political enemies planted the allegation in the press, according to local and international news stories.